February was “I Love to Read Month” and was celebrated by many across the nation. Locally, children and volunteers celebrated by reading and doing activities they enjoy throughout the year which assist them in developing their reading skills and abilities.
Reading to children regularly not only assists them with improving their reading skills but according to the National Center for Education Statistics children who are read to frequently are reported to be more likely to: count to 20 or higher than children who are not read to frequently, write their own names and read or pretend to read at an earlier age.
Greater St. Cloud Area Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) (Lisa J. Braun, Director) volunteers support youth in our community throughout “I Love to Read Month” and throughout the entire year by committing their time to classrooms and after school programs. Throughout 2015, 147 RSVP volunteers committed over 5,800 hours to tutoring, mentoring and reading to our local children at over 35 volunteer locations!
Included in these many volunteer hours is a specialized volunteer group who reads out loud to students in classrooms called the RSVP BookEnds Reader's Theater located in Elk River. This dedicated group is celebrating their 20th season this year as they continue to bring the joy of reading to students in the Elk River area. Over the years, the RSVP BookEnds strive to achieve their mission “to demonstrate joy of the written word to children through group-based, fluent, expressive reading”, the group has read to over 52,000 students in both public and private schools in the school district based in Elk River, stretching north to Zimmerman and south to Rogers. The BookEnds who began as simply a “fun” classroom addition has grown to now offer story selections which support current curriculum. Topics this season include bullying, diversity, civil rights, and American history along with some lighter selections by poets Shel Silverstein and Dr. Suess. In this way, educators invite the BookEnds into their classroom as an integral piece of their lesson plans as an additional, unique tool to illustrate learning goals. In addition to the BookEnds, RSVP has two other long-standing readers’ theater groups which were born out of the idea of the original Elk River group. The “St. Cloud Readers’ Theater” serving school districts throughout the greater St. Cloud area and the “BookMarks” serving the Becker and Big Lake school districts.
There are many ways to get involved and support youth development in reading in your community such as volunteering! The Greater St. Cloud Area RSVP connects volunteers, ages 55 and better, with unique and flexible opportunities to volunteer with youth such as becoming a “reading buddy” at the Boys and Girls Club, becoming a mentor or tutor at a local school, getting involved in one of the aforementioned Readers’ Theater groups and many more opportunities! Please contact the RSVP office at (320)255-7295 or visit the RSVP website at www.ci.stcloud.mn.us/RSVP for more information about available volunteer opportunities!
Another way to get involved and support local youth is to learn more and donate to “Betty’s Books” also known as the “Imagination Library” sponsored locally by the United Way of Central Minnesota. (https://www.classy.org/events/bettys-books/e68030) The “Imagination Library” is funded locally by donations and the program provides free books to children in our area. According to the United Way website “each child enrolled in the program receives a new, age-appropriate book sent to their home each month until their fifth birthday. The program is offered to families at no cost.”
Any way you are able to get involved with youth reading development is great as the National Education Association (NEA) states there is a positive correlation between time students spend reading for fun and their test scores in school. Historic American journalist, Margaret Fuller, once said, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” Won’t you help us shape the leaders of our future?